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Pope accepts resignation of embattled Chilean cardinal

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of a Chilean cardinal who has faced widespread criticism for his handling of cases of clerical sexual abuse in the country.

The pope accepted the resignation of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago, the Vatican announced March 23; the Vatican did not give a reason for the cardinal stepping down. All bishops are required to offer their resignations when they turn 75; Cardinal Ezzati is 77.

The cardinal's is the eighth resignation Pope Francis accepted after almost every bishop in Chile offered to step down in May 2018 after a three-day meeting at the Vatican to discuss the clerical sexual abuse scandal. In each case where he accepted a resignation, the pope named an apostolic administrator to lead the diocese temporarily. For the administrator of Santiago, the pope chose Bishop Celestino Aos Braco of Copiapo, who will turn 74 April 6.

Chile has 27 dioceses and other church jurisdictions led by a bishop.

The announcement of the cardinal's resignation comes just over a week after a Chilean news outlet published a 2015 criminal complaint made against Cardinal Ezzati and the Archdiocese of Santiago that revealed a case of sexual abuse that occurred in the cathedral of Santiago and its subsequent cover-up.

Chilean prosecutors also are investigating an alleged sex-abuse ring in Rancagua as well as possible cover-ups of abuse cases in Santiago by senior members of the clergy, including Cardinal Ezzati and his predecessor, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz.

Cardinal Ezzati was subpoenaed in July 2018 after prosecutors conducted several raids of diocesan offices in Rancagua and Santiago.

Although Cardinal Ezzati had said that he would cooperate with authorities in their investigation, he invoked his right against self-incrimination when he appeared in court in October.

Survivors of abuse have been critical of Cardinal Ezzati and the country's bishops not only for mishandling cases of abuse, but also for allegedly misinforming the pope about the reality of sexual abuse in the country.

Among the cardinal's most vocal critics is Juan Carlos Cruz, who along with fellow survivors Jose Andres Murillo and James Hamilton, were invited to meet with the pope last April at the Vatican.

Speaking to journalists May 2, Cruz said he told the pope how he was demonized by Cardinals Ezzati and Errazuriz in an email that was later leaked.

"They called me a 'serpent,' they called me everything. I told the Holy Father, and he said he was hurt," Cruz said.

In a message to Catholic News Service March 23, Cruz applauded the pope's decision to accept the cardinal's resignation saying that "the pope knows what he is doing" and expressing hope that the pope would "find someone who will lead Santiago on the right path."

Cruz also expressed his support of Bishop Aos in the difficult task of leading the archdiocese back "to what is true, to its source."

"With all my heart, I wish Bishop Aos all the best. Anything is better than Cardinal Ezzati. We must also support Bishop Aos so that he can unite the clergy, so that he can unite what has been destroyed," Cruz told CNS. "He doesn't have an easy task ahead of him but obviously, we must support him."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

 

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Update: Pope sends aid to southeast Africa after cyclone

IMAGE: CNS photo/Siphiwe Sibeko, Reuters

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As an immediate sign of his concern and an encouragement to other donors, Pope Francis has sent $50,000 each to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi to assist with initial emergency relief efforts after a cyclone hit the region and caused massive flooding.

As of March 22, at least 300 people were known to have died, thousands have been injured and hundreds of thousands left homeless, according to the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The dicastery, which will distribute the aid from the pope through the Vatican nunciatures in each country, said the week of torrential rain in the region has "razed to the ground tens of thousands of homes and public buildings" and made major roads impassable.

The water and electricity distribution systems have been compromised and there is a growing concern about the spread of diseases, particularly through unclean water.

The Vatican described Pope Francis' donation as a "first contribution" and "an immediate expression of his feeling of spiritual closeness" to the people impacted.

In addition, it noted, the contribution is only "part of the aid that is being gathered throughout the Catholic Church" from bishops' conferences and charitable organizations.

In Washington, the chairmen of the U.S. bishops' subcommittee on Africa and their international policy committee said March 22 that Catholic Relief Services has set up an emergency relief initiative to collect resources to provide humanitarian aid "and begin the longer-term recovery efforts" in the three African countries.

"It is with profound shock, horror and sadness that we learn about the devastation and massive loss of life that has occurred ... due to Cyclone Idai. The magnitude of the cyclone and the scope of its damages are almost beyond belief," said Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, and Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

They wrote to the Catholic bishops' conferences of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi as the chairmen, respectively, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Subcommittee on the Church in Africa and the Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The two prelates expressed sorrow and solidarity over the lives lost by the cyclone and offered prayers for recovery efforts.

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Bishop criticizes 'faith-filled' Catholics who spread fear of Muslims

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DUBLIN (CNS) -- An Irish bishop has criticized Catholics who identify as "faith-filled" while spreading fear and mistrust of immigrants, particularly those who are Muslims.

Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, chairman of the Council for Life of the Irish bishops' conference, told The Irish Catholic newspaper: "I've found that people who would classify themselves in some cases as traditional Catholics and faith-filled people seem to, in relation to migration and care of asylum-seekers and stuff, they'll say 'oh well these Muslims are putting our civilization at risk and they pose a threat to us.'"

Bishop Doran spoke in the wake of what he described as a "savage attack" on two mosques in New Zealand that left at least 50 people dead.

"All of us, of whatever religious tradition, can identify with what that might mean for a congregation gathered to worship," the bishop said.

Bishop Doran said it was wrong of people to demonize Muslims for the actions of terrorism claiming to be inspired by Islam.

"To define a whole category of people, or a whole nation, or a whole religious group as being in some way more prone to terrorism than any other group is irresponsible," he said.

In his experience, he said, Muslim people living in Irish society do so "peacefully and participate fully."

"We have large numbers of Muslim children in our Catholic schools, and they contribute to the ethos in many ways.

"One of the interesting things about Muslims is while they are of a different faith, they tend to have a level of commitment to faith that in many ways we might well sit up and pay attention to," he said.

In February, Bishop Doran spoke out after a disused hotel slated to house refugees was damaged in an apparent arson attack.

He said the alleged arson had caused "significant upset to parishioners," adding "it is all the more disturbing since it is suggested that the fires are a response to the proposed use of the hotel to house refugees."

"Militant opposition, expressed in the destruction of property, is simply not consistent with the Gospel."

 

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Catholic social teaching guides advocates in push for a 'moral' budget

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The White House delivered a record $4.75 trillion "Budget for a Better America" for fiscal year 2020 to Congress March 11 and it continued a defining trend to boost military spending and border security while making deep cuts in most other federal agencies.

It was quickly dismissed by many members of Congress as being unrealistic. Congress routinely shapes the budget to reflect priorities that usually differ from the chief executive, although a president's preferences have not always been ignored.

With divided government -- Democrats in charge in the House and Republicans in the Senate and White House -- the budget debate from now through the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, and perhaps later, may become contentious as congressional committee hearings shape how tax dollars are spent.

However it unfolds, Catholic advocates plan to be part of the process.

Regular visitors to Capitol Hill expressed concern to Catholic News Service over the recent trend to promote Pentagon spending while reducing appropriations for environmental protection, housing, education, nutrition, foreign development and humanitarian aid, and other human needs.

They stressed that they plan to advocate for a budget that promotes human dignity -- as they consistently have for decades.

"We look at it (the budget) through the lens of Catholic social teaching, not by the issue. We look at the moral and ethical components of issues, how they affect the well-being of human beings and how they impact the poor," explained Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

"A budget is a moral document," he continued. "We've said that lots of times. There's a human dimension to the budget and sometimes we forget that."

Bishop Dewane and others representing the USCCB plan to testify at budget hearings and send letters to key House and Senate committee chairmen in the coming months to ensure that the Catholic Church's stances are known.

Bishop Dewane cautioned that the budget must not simply become "a math exercise."

"It's one of human promotion. It should be about recognizing the human person. Human dignity is not something we grant. Every person has human dignity and the budget is a way to recognize and not squelch or destroy the human dignity of God's creation," the bishop said.

The church's position has met with push back at times, largely from members of Congress who have said the U.S. must address its growing $22 trillion debt and the best way to do that is to cut spending.

Still, the USCCB and other organizations have challenged that view, noting that the drive to increase military and homeland security spending continues to the detriment of other important federal programs that face deep cuts.

"What we do say and what the bishops' conference says is if you are concerned about the growing national debt, you can't balance the budget on the backs of the poor," said Bill O'Keefe, executive vice president for mission, mobilization and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services.

O'Keefe told CNS the same principle applies in providing humanitarian and development assistance around the world.

"Because as a Catholic community we value the human dignity of all people, we want to see the moral appropriation of foreign assistance, the type that CRS and the USCCB are advocating for, to grow and meet the need and not to shrink," O'Keefe said.

Foreign assistance programs total about 1 percent of the federal budget.

Others, including Lucas Swanepoel, vice president of social policy at Catholic Charities USA, said the nation faces a moral choice as it mulls how it respond to human needs.

"We can invest in things that destroy, divide and kill or I think we can invest in things that educate, heal and feed people. It's what we're called to do in Matthew 25," Swanepoel said.

Matthew 25 recounts three parables told by Jesus including one about how to respond to "the least of these," including the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned and the stranger.

Beyond working with members of Congress, Catholic Charities and other organizations regularly share information with people in parish pews about the benefits of programs that address human needs from disaster aid to elderly services. Despite a growing economy and rising stock markets, the need remains significant in the U.S.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported 39.7 million Americans, about 12.7 percent of the population, remained in poverty in 2017, the most recent year statistics are available.

It's not just church-affiliated organizations that advocate to legislators and share information on budget concerns. Nonprofits such as the Coalition on Human Needs and Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, have invested significant resources and time to address widespread unmet needs.

"If we see church and ourselves as people of faith, we will be dedicated to the best of our church, which is Catholic social teaching," said Presentation Sister Richelle Friedman, director of social policy at the Coalition on Human Needs. "If we remind ourselves that Catholic social teaching calls us to respect the dignity of every person, we remember that our first priority needs to go to people who are poor and vulnerable."

While Sister Friedman isn't tasked with representing church teaching when she visits congressional offices, the positions the coalition takes largely align with that teaching.

At Network, Sister Simone Campbell, executive director, posed a simple question when describing federal spending priorities: How does a particular appropriation promote "the good of the community?"

"What the federal budget should be about is the quality of life in the United States and our relationships around the world," she told CNS.

Sister Campbell, a member of the Sisters of Social Service, said she finds inspiration for her work in Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," in which he stated that all of humanity has "a claim on all of the resources in our amazing world."

"It's not just the few, it's all," she said. "And the disproportionate attention to increasing the wealth of the few over the needs the many in the budget is clearly immoral."

Such questions are not easy to resolve. Shelley Inglis, executive director of the Human Rights Center at the University of Dayton in Ohio, urged members of Congress to remember the country's core values, which are reflected in Catholic social teaching.

"We are all responsible for contributing to the greater good of everyone," she said. "We can't lose sight of that concept.

"The discussion around the budget is an important way we can go back to basic thinking about where our values lie and what those values mean in decisions in how we invest in people globally and in our own social capital, our own people and our own society for the common good."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

 

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To protect Earth, change lifestyles, say church, indigenous leaders

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Guatemalan Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini said he notices when he visits family in the U.S. that almost anywhere he goes, the lights seem to be on -- even in the daytime, even if there's enough natural light to illuminate a space.

To him, it signals a culture that he says has to change. Bishop Ramazzini and others who gathered at Georgetown University March 19-21 said the planet can no longer deal with the environmental disruptions such actions produce, leaving vulnerable populations reeling from their adverse consequences. And soon, they said, if nothing is done to curb those actions, no one will escape the consequences that result from such a culture of waste.

Bishop Ramazzini, along with other church leaders, members of indigenous communities, and environmental organizations related to the Catholic Church and other faith-based institutions, gathered in Washington in mid-March ahead of the October Synod of Bishops on the Amazon at the Vatican. Prelates and others at the synod will consider environmental situations in the Amazon and chart a plan of action.

Much of the work will keep in mind Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si'," which speaks of consumerism and the environmental degradation it causes, such as global warming and displacement of indigenous communities, and calls people to action.

Patricia Gualinga, a member of the Kichwa indigenous community of Sarayaku, Ecuador, told those gathered not to say "those poor people," when referring to indigenous communities or disenfranchised groups such as the poor, who are now facing the consequences of environmental problems.

"Think of yourselves," she warned, because "those poor people" may refer to them and their neighbors someday soon when environmental problems arrive at their doorstep.

Participants at the Washington gathering looked at some of the data showing what can happen if places such as the Amazon keep experiencing deforestation at the current rate. The Amazon serves as the "world's lung," where global emissions of carbon dioxide can be turned into oxygen. Its deforestation is not just displacing indigenous communities who have long called the region home but may also accelerate the warming of the globe, leading to extreme weather patterns everywhere.

The church cares about such issues, said Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, because part of being a Christian means considering "the suffering of our brothers and sisters" and how they might be affected by people's own actions or habits.

Bishop Ramazzini offered as an example the manufactured need for the newest lines of smartphones, which render products released just a year earlier obsolete. The consumer does not stop to consider who might be sacrificing him or herself in another part of the world to manufacture those types of object others want, but do not need.

It's fair to question, then, whether a person who does not care about the well-being of others can be in communion with the church, Archbishop Hollerich said.

In terms of the environment and its relationship to God, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, said Christians must consider the environment as more than nature.

"It's creation. There is a Creator, and that Creator has given this (Earth) to us out of love," he said.

Caring for the planet carries out the culture of life that the church upholds, he said, and yet "we treat the earth, human beings, as if we're the owners, so we can dispose as we like."

Participants called for a shift, an "ecological conversion," that leads to a change of mind, but also a change of lifestyle, one that keeps the stewardship of the planet's resources in mind. They discussed a wide range of topics, including the role of women in the environmental movement; how the church can help indigenous populations facing violence during efforts to maintain their ancestral homes; poverty; and the social exclusion linked with environmental degradation; but also why these questions should matter to Christians and those who care about building a culture of life.

At least eight cardinals attended the Washington gathering, including Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, president of the Pan-Amazonian Church Network, which spearheaded the effort in Washington. The organization based in South America links indigenous communities and Catholic organizations in nine countries to respond to challenges facing those who live in the Amazon.

During a March 20 press conference at Georgetown, Cardinal Hummes said the synod is expected to yield concrete actions and indicate new paths of action.

Communities want action, he said, not just documents that will sit on bookshelves. They want a church that will walk with them, one that is close to them, and an effort to help the planet and humanity requires exactly that kind of solidarity, Cardinal Hummes said.

Yes, sometimes it feels as if such an effort is much like David facing Goliath, especially given the resources, and the grip a consumerist culture has on the world, Cardinal Hummes said.

"But there's an important detail: David won," he said.

 

 

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Polish cardinal, St. John Paul's aide, defends pontiff's record on abuse

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters

By Jonathan Luxmoore

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A close aide to St. John Paul II has vigorously defended the late pope's handling of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and denied accusations that he ignored the problem during his 27-year pontificate.

"Emerging opinions that John Paul II was sluggish in guiding the church's response to sexual abuse of minors by some clerics are prejudicial and contrary to historical facts -- the pope was shocked and had no intention of tolerating the crime of pedophilia," said Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who was the pontiff's personal secretary for 39 years.

St. John Paul saw how local churches "dealt with emerging problems and gave help when necessary, often at his own initiative."

The 79-year-old cardinal, who retired in 2016 after 11 years as archbishop of Krakow, was reacting to media criticisms that the Polish pontiff failed to confront abuse claims when they became widespread in the 1980s.

In a March 20 statement to Poland's Catholic Information Agency, KAI, he said the pope had concluded "new tools were needed" when the abuse crisis "began to ferment" in the United States.

He added that the saint had given church leaders new powers to combat it, including indults, or special licenses to ensure "a policy of zero tolerance," for the U.S. and Irish churches in 1994 and 1996.

"These were, for the bishops, an unambiguous indication of the direction in which they should fight," Cardinal Dziwisz said.

"When it became clear local episcopates and religious superiors were still unable to cope with the problem, and the crisis was spreading to other countries, he recognized it concerned not just the Anglo-Saxon world but had a global character," the cardinal said.

Criticisms of St John Paul's record have increased in recent months.

A March 16 commentary in Britain's Catholic weekly, The Tablet, said St. John Paul advanced several cardinals accused ignoring sexual abuse, including U.S. Cardinals Bernard F. Law and Theodore E. McCarrick, Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer and Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien.

The commentary added that the pope's "turning a blind eye to sexual abuse" had been shaped by communist-era experiences in Poland and had caused "the mess the church is in today."

However, in his statement, Cardinal Dziwisz said St. John Paul had promulgated legal norms of "groundbreaking importance" for tackling abuse crimes in May 2001 -- a year before "a wave of revelations" in the U.S. -- requiring sexual abuse committed by clergy be referred to the Vatican's Apostolic Court.

He added that the pope had presented his own analysis of the crisis to U.S. cardinals in April 2002 following the publication of "Spotlight" claims and had also "known and approved" the launch of Vatican investigations in December 2004 against Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Mexican head of the Legionaries of Christ.

"To this day, this analysis serves as a reference point for all those committed to fighting against the crime of sexual abuse of minors by clerics," said Cardinal Dziwisz, who also defended St. John Paul's record in a Polish TV interview during a February Vatican summit on protection of minors.

"It helps diagnose the crisis and indicates the way out, and this has been confirmed by the Vatican summit convened by Pope Francis, who is following with determination the path of his predecessors in fighting against this problem."

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Panel: Policies to empower women must protect femininity, human dignity

IMAGE: CNS photo/Thomas Mukoya, Reuters

By Beth Griffin

UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- Women should not be required to divest themselves of femininity to achieve empowerment and gender equality, according to panelists at a March 19 event at the United Nations.

Women's dignity and distinctiveness also must not be sacrificed to win social protections, public services and sustainable infrastructure, they said.

Speakers addressed "Protecting Femininity and Human Dignity in Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality Policies Today" at a side event to the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The program was co-sponsored by the Vatican's Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.

"True respect for woman starts with accepting, indeed reverencing, her according to all aspects of her humanity," said Msgr. Tomasz Grysa, who is first counselor at the Vatican's U.N. mission. "It involves creating the social conditions for her to live freely and fully, without discrimination, according to her feminine genius, the special wisdom she has in caring for the intrinsic dignity of everyone, in nurturing life and love and in developing others' gifts."

"When women are given the opportunity to thrive in full appreciation for all their talents and potential, the whole of society benefits," he added.

The full dignity of women should be promoted and protected with regard to marriage, motherhood and family life, Msgr. Grysa said. Because the unique value and dignity of motherhood is insufficiently defended, appreciated and advanced in some societies, women must choose between intellectual and professional development and their personal growth as wives and mothers.

"Women's essential contributions to the development of society through their dedication to their marriage and to raising the next generation are inadequately acknowledged ... and disparaged as an antiquated and unwholesome model of feminine life," he said.

Msgr. Grysa said, "We need more than words condemning all forms of unjust discrimination against women. We need more than social protections, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure that allow women to take up work outside the home or even to enable them to meet their families' needs without needing to sever their maternity from their femininity.

"We need an effective and intelligent campaign for the promotion of women, concentrating on all areas of women's life and beginning with a universal recognition of their dignity," he added.

Sue Ellen Browder, a journalist and former 20-year writer for Cosmopolitan magazine, said the real conflict between women is not over feminism, but the false joining of feminism with the sexual revolution.

"What strong pro-life feminists oppose is destroying a woman's dignity by reducing her personhood to her sex organs, her sexual desirability and her sexual urges and then pretending this animalistic reduction of her dignity is somehow a form of 'freedom,'" Bowder said.

"To bring peace to this war on women in the world, we need to separate true feminism from the sexual revolution in our minds and the minds of others," she said.

Browder traced the history of the modern women's movement from the early 1960s. She said leader Betty Freidan and other feminists fought for equal opportunity for women in academia and the workforce, not abortion and contraception.

The sexual revolution, championed by Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown, was a divisive movement whose false promise was that "splitting sex from love actually empowered women," Browder said.

According to Browder, the male founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League persuaded Freidan "to insert abortion as a 'right' into the women's movement." The decision to do so split the feminist movement, a division which persists today.

"Separate feminism from the sexual revolution in your mind and heart. Then you will at last set women and girls truly free," she concluded.

Retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Susan Yoshihara realized an unexpected appreciation of her unique femininity in the middle of a task she was assigned to because she was a woman.

During a mission in the South China Seas, the combat logistics pilot was replaced by a male pilot in her helicopter seat after landing on the deck of a ship. She was assigned to bathe Vietnamese women who had been rescued by the Navy and brought aboard the ship from small boats as they fled Vietnam.

In the midst of her anger over temporarily losing her flight position in a competitive field, Yoshihara was brought to earth by the sight of a woman cowering in the shower wearing only a small medallion of Mary. Yoshihara felt ashamed when she realized the woman expected her to take the medal.

Yoshihara was reminded of religious sisters from her high school who were similarly devoted to Mary. She was able to lighten the mood and help the women relax and laugh as they dressed in oversized donated men's clothing.

Yoshihara said her experience that night, far from the top ranks or the front lines, was a reminder that small acts of kindness bring happiness under and on the way to the mythical glass ceiling.

Yoshihara is senior vice president for research at the Center for Family and Human Rights.

Anne Kioko, the founder and director of the African Organization for the Family, said some international policies are out of sync with what women and girls actually need. As a result, some organizations that claim to represent women at the grassroots do not speak for their reality.

She said girls in the rural Kenyan village where she was raised do not need contraception to be empowered. They also do not need policies that prioritize abortion or comprehensive sexual education curricula that "reduce women to her sexualization," she said.

Instead, girls will be empowered by access to good education, competent medical care and clean, accessible water, she said.

Kioko said abortion is illegal in Kenya, but an international organization affiliated with the United Nations provides it. "Why must we continue to see ... that giving a mother the right to take the life of her baby in the womb is essential to her empowerment?" she asked.

"When abortion is prioritized for women like those in my country, it is not the woman we are protecting, it is the bloodthirsty abortion industry," Kioko said.

Lila Rose, founder and president of Live Action, described abortion as a global crisis. She said the solution to the mistreatment of women is not to abolish the differences that exist between men and women, but to celebrate the totality of womanhood, including the ability to become mothers.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Theologian supports declaring St. Romero 'doctor of the church'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- One of the founders of liberation theology in Latin America said he supports an effort to declare St. Oscar Romero a doctor of the Catholic Church.

During a March 18 livestream of an event celebrating the Salvadoran saint canonized in October, Dominican Father Gustavo Gutierrez, considered by many as the father of liberation theology, said he thought the idea of naming St. Romero a doctor of the church was an "excellent" proposition.

While some value a person's writings or academic record, when it comes to declaring a saint a doctor of the church, "love toward another person is worth more than all of the theologies," said Father Gutierrez, recalling something he'd read from another theologian. He was speaking via internet to those gathered for "Romero Days," an event sponsored by the University of Notre Dame.

St. Romero's feast day is March 24.

Saints who are declared doctors of the church "are probably best thought of as doctors in the Ph.D. sense of the word," said Father Larry Rice, explaining the term in 2015 on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Through their research, study and writing, they have advanced the church's knowledge of our faith. To be declared a doctor of the church does not imply that all their writings are free from error but rather that the whole body of their work, taken together serves to advance the cause of Christ and his church," he wrote.

St. Romero was a prolific writer and much can be gleaned from his works, explained Father Gutierrez, who said he encountered the Salvadoran saint in the early 1970s. But contrary to the belief that many promulgated that St. Romero himself was a follower of liberation theology and its embrace of the "preferential option for the poor," there isn't much to support that, said Father Gutierrez.

"We can't say that," he said, because St. Romero was traveling a different journey, and he had already encountered a world of poverty in Eastern El Salvador in 1970 when he served there. Father Gutierrez's book that gave a spotlight to liberation theology wasn't published until 1971. By then, St. Romero was making "advances" of his own because of the poverty he had seen among his people, Father Gutierrez said.

Just before St. Romero's May 2015 beatification in El Salvador, Chilean Father Pablo Richard Guzman, a well-known liberation theologian in Latin America, told Catholic News Service that while the Salvadoran archbishop was not a follower of liberation theology, "he influenced us."

While he may have heard of the liberation theology, St. Romero was undergoing a "process," not the much-talked about conversion others tout, Father Gutierrez believes.

"Much has been said about Romero's conversion and people have the right to say what they think," Father Gutierrez said. "I just want to say that I don't agree."

Rather than a "conversion," Father Gutierrez said he believes St. Romero's "process" was one guided by the injustices he witnessed. Then he had the humility to say, "I need to learn," Father Gutierrez said.

He did seem to show a bit of "distrust" of certain movements within the church in Latin America, Father Gutierrez said, but he was always willing to keep an open mind.

He said later in life he read the saint's notes about meeting with him. St. Romero wrote: "Father Gustavo was different than what people had told me."

Witnessing his canonization decades later was not a surprise, Father Gutierrez said.

"It was a great pleasure but, like many, I was sure it was coming," he said.

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Update: As cyclone slams Africa, churches, aid agencies coordinate response

IMAGE: CNS photo/Josh Estey, Care International via Reuters

By Bronwen Dachs

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Two boys at a Catholic boarding school in Zimbabwe are among the more than 300 people killed in the aftermath of a cyclone that slammed into Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in mid-March. Officials fear the death toll from the cyclone could reach 1,000.

A landslide sent rocks crashing into a dormitory at St. Charles Lwanga Seminary Secondary School in Mutare Diocese, trapping about 50 students and staff. They dug themselves out, and teachers carried the boys' bodies for about 10 miles in the Chimanimani district, a mountainous area in eastern Zimbabwe, before the group was picked up by the army and taken to the nearest hospital.

In Mozambique, more than 200 people have died and nearly 350,000 are at risk, President Filipe Nyusi said March 19. In Zimbabwe, the government said about 100 people had died, but the death toll could triple.

"It's very difficult to know the extent of the damage" and the death toll, with collapsed infrastructure and communication lines down, Erica Dahl-Bredine, Catholic Relief Services' representative for Mozambique, said in a March 18 telephone interview.

Beira, Mozambique's second-largest city and a major port, "is almost completely destroyed, and some areas outside the city are impossible to reach," she said. The cyclone knocked out electricity, shut down Beira's international airport and cut off access to the city by road.

"People are stranded on roofs of houses and in trees, waiting for help," Dahl-Bredine said, noting that roads and bridges have been washed away.

With overflowing rivers, whole villages have been submerged and bodies were floating in the floodwaters, she said.

Catholic Relief Services is working with local Caritas and other church and relief groups to assess the needs and provide help, she said.

Mozambique is a long, narrow country of about 30 million people with a 1,500-mile coastline along the Indian Ocean.

The cyclone, called Idai, landed in Beira late March 14 before moving to Zimbabwe with strong winds and heavy rain.

Because Zimbabwe is a landlocked country, the "sheer force and strength of the cyclone" was worse than anticipated, Rita Billingsley, who works for Catholic Relief Services in Zimbabwe, said in a March 19 telephone interview from the capital, Harare.

With crops, livestock and homes destroyed in the storm, "about 12,000 people are believed to have lost their livelihoods" in Zimbabwe, Billingsley said, noting that numbers are expected to rise in affected countries as the extent of the cyclone's destruction becomes clearer.

Church premises throughout Zimbabwe are being used to provide refuge for those who have lost their homes, as well as to coordinate the emergency response with all those involved, she said. With "overwhelming local support," the church is "well placed to give a targeted and meaningful response."

"We need to get supplies to those who need it most and quickly," Billingsley said, noting that supplies are ready and airdrops are planned.

Unrelenting rains, rockslides and fallen trees have destroyed roads and bridges in many places, making rescue efforts very difficult, she said.

Also, with the destruction of Beira, the trade route to Zimbabwe will have to change and prices of goods are likely to rise, she said.

"Some goods won't be available at all, which will harm the markets" around Zimbabwe, Billingsley said.

"This means in-kind support rather than cash" will be prioritized, she said, noting that "provision of medical supplies is a major area of concern."

Shortages of food, fuel and medical supplies are already acute in Zimbabwe.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis prayed those affected by the flooding, which has "sown sorrow and devastation," be able to find comfort and support.

He expressed his concern and sorrow for "the many victims and their families" at the end of his general audience in St. Peter's Square March 20. He said he was praying that those "hit by this calamity" would find "comfort and support."

Father Frederick Chiromba, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference, said in a March 18 telephone interview from Harare that early warning systems for the cyclone were in place but "the extent of the damage was worse than we had expected."

With "changing climate patterns, our droughts and other weather shocks seem to get more severe every time," he said.

Neighboring Malawi was also affected by the heavy rains. The government confirmed 56 deaths in the flooding, which caused rivers to burst their banks, leaving houses submerged and around 11,000 households displaced.

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Editors: Catholic Relief Services is collecting for cyclone victims: https://bit.ly/2JrkYrL

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God's will is clear: to seek out, save humanity from evil, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians have faith in a God who wants to and is able to transform the world, conquering evil with good, Pope Francis said.

That is why "it makes sense to obey and abandon oneself" to God and his will, even during life's most difficult moments, the pope said March 20 during his general audience in St. Peter's Square.

Continuing a series of talks about the Lord's Prayer, the pope focused on the line, "Thy will be done." It is the third petition in the prayer right after, "hallowed be thy name" and "thy kingdom come."

God's will -- what he wants -- is clearly illustrated throughout the Gospel, the pope said; it is "to seek out and save whoever is lost."

"Have you ever thought about what that means, that God is looking for me, for each one of us" personally, "knocking on the door of our heart" with love, hoping to capture people's attention and take them by the hand toward salvation, the pope said.

"God is not ambiguous," Pope Francis said. "He does not hide behind riddles" or inscrutable plans; he wants everyone to know the truth and be saved.

The Our Father is a prayer asking that this desire be fulfilled and that each person and all of humanity be saved, he said.

When people pray, "Thy will be done," they are praying not as subservient "slaves" but as children who understand and trust their father and his loving plan, the pope said.

"It is a courageous, even confrontational prayer because there are so many, too many things going on in the world that are not according to God's plan," he added.

In a world experiencing war, hatred and exploitation, he said, people of faith know that God wants what is best, which is why they pray his will be done and that swords be turned into plowshares, because "God wants peace."

The Lord's Prayer is meant to ignite the same deep love Jesus felt for his father, the same passion to "transform the world with love."

Christians do not believe in random, unalterable or "inescapable fate," the pope said. Rather, they truly believe "that God can and wants to transform reality, conquering evil with good," and this, he said, is why people pray.

Even though Christ was being "crushed by the evil of the world," he abandoned himself fully and confidently to God's will, the pope said.

That path to salvation may be difficult, and people may experience suffering, pain or harm, but God "will never abandon us. He will always be with us, next to us, within us."

"For a person of faith, this is more than a hope, it is a sure thing -- God is with me."

Present at the pope's general audience was Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Setsuko Thurlow, 87, a Japanese-Canadian survivor of the United States' atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. She received the prize in 2017 on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

She was part of a delegation of activists led by Earth Caravan, an interfaith group based in Japan and Canada. The group visiting the Vatican was made up of people from different countries and cultures, including four 13-year-old girls -- girls the same age as Thurlow when the bomb dropped on her city and killed her family.  

The group was to present Pope Francis with an oil lamp lit with a flame that was taken from the burning ashes of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The flame, the group said on its website, has been burning continuously since Aug. 6, 1945.

The group was going to ask the pope to blow out the flame they brought as a symbolic gesture of wishing for a world free of nuclear weapons and a brighter, more peaceful world.

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